Fears that a no deal Brexit would be a calamity for the UK were dismissed as ‘nonsense,’ by Conservative MP Mark Harper at the Rutland Biz Club lunch.
The MP for the Forest of Dean told attendees at the Falcon Hotel in Uppingham, that he believes the UK will leave the European Union on the 31st October. But he disagrees with former Chancellor Philip Hammond’s prediction that it will be ‘as disastrous as possible’ as it just means leaving without a withdrawal agreement, not a framework for our future relationship which was not agreed at the outset.
He said: “The former PM’s deal wasn’t really a deal, it was a withdrawal agreement, the exit. What we really mean by a deal is what the future structure of our relationship is going to be with the European Parliament. If we do leave without a withdrawal agreement, we need to start talking about a future deal, including a free trade agreement with no tariffs or barriers and about defence and foreign policy.”
He predicts that when the EU stops trying to frustrate the UK’s departure and concedes we’re leaving, the UK will need to persuade the EU it would be self-defeating and not in their interests or the UK’s, for negotiations not to go smoothly.
He said: “We can do all the preparation we want, but if the EU is going to be difficult and obstructive, we need to show them it would be cutting off their noses to spite their faces. I don’t think we have properly sold our contribution to Europe; the former PM Theresa May failed to make this case.”
Mr Harper believes the UK needs to show the EU what it can bring to the table, including the largest military power in Europe, second only to the US in NATO, the largest national security apparatus and the fifth largest economy in the world. “This will be the diplomatic challenge the UK has to deal with, once the EU knows we’re serious about leaving,” he said.
Mr Harper believes that the 2016 referendum was not about leaving Europe, but about leaving the European Union, which is not the same thing. He said the UK belongs to a wide range of EU bodies including the Council of Europe, so the UK will still be sitting round the table with our European partners, it just won’t be the EU table. “We have a lot more in common than that that which drives us apart.”
He concluded: “I voted remain, but I am a democrat and believe MPs must put the country first and remember who we work for – the voters. We must deliver Brexit because that’s what they voted for. We are going to have to play hardball with the EU and if we do, I think we will get a good deal. Will it be easy, no, will it be bumpy yes, can we do it, yes, we can.”
Biz Club President Geoffrey Pointon said: “I believe this is the best speech the Biz Club has heard on Brexit as it was balanced and fair. It was also good to hear Mark dismiss any fears of a no deal Brexit as ‘nonsense,’ and to hear a sense of optimism for the future.”
The Biz Club meets on the third Friday of each month for a lunch at The Falcon Hotel in Uppingham, with a visiting speaker to encourage enterprise and stimulate dialogue between politicians and businesspeople.